Caring for the planet and for people – why a Feminist Green New Deal is urgent

Date Posted: Tuesday 27th April 2021

Living with the Covid-19 pandemic over the past year has led to much discussion of how we can ‘build back better’ following the crisis. This has sparked a collective re-evaluation of the world on pause and a revaluing of nature, community and care. Many of the social, racial, gendered and environmental injustices largely ignored by […]

Living with the Covid-19 pandemic over the past year has led to much discussion of how we can ‘build back better’ following the crisis. This has sparked a collective re-evaluation of the world on pause and a revaluing of nature, community and care. Many of the social, racial, gendered and environmental injustices largely ignored by the mainstream in our busy, individualised capitalism, have now been given the spotlight.

The growing expressions of frustration from large sections of the public –  from Extinction Rebellion and the School Strikers to Black Lives Matter and more recent protests over the new Policing Bill  -are a clear sign that our current system isn’t working for everyone. In fact, it’s barely working for anyone. Poverty in the UK is on the increase, affecting black and ethnically minoritized people disproportionately. Unemployment is set to rise after the furlough scheme ends. Domestic violence, overwhelmingly committed against women, has risen during the pandemic. Climate change poses an existential threat to all of us, but will hit the poor – including women and marginalised groups – first and hardest.

The need for change is obvious, urgent, and systemic. These seemingly separate issues are inescapably linked.

The twin crises of ecological breakdown and social injustice is what the Green New Deal is designed to address. In terms of ecological breakdown, we know what is needed to ensure the planet continues to sustain life. The same is true of addressing social injustice. We know what conditions must be met to ensure people are able to live flourishing lives: we just need to create them. However, current Green New Deal plans often overlook the inequalities that must be addressed and reversed if we are to create a socially just transition.

This is one of the aims of a new and exciting collaboration between the Women’s Budget Group and the Women’s Environmental Network which adds an intersectional gendered lens to the Green New Deal. The project will build support for a Feminist Green New Deal (FGND) that ensures gender equality is at the heart of strategies to tackle climate change and that climate change is recognised as a priority by the UK women’s movement.

One way to implement the structural changes requited for an effective FGND could be the Social Guarantee – a policy framework that aims to ensure everyone has access to life’s essentials.

In their book ‘A Theory of Human Needs’, Ian Gough and Len Doyle identify universal needs that have to be satisfied if people are to thrive. These include nutrition, shelter, social participation (education, information, communication), health, and physical and income security. Everyone, regardless of culture, gender or race, has these needs. Without access to services that meet them, people cannot flourish.  Yet we consistently fail to deliver decent services for those who can’t afford to pay. In the fifth largest economy in the world, it is political will that prevents this, and political will can change.

The FGND advocates for the creation of a caring economy through investing in the low-carbon social infrastructure, such as health, child and adult social care, education and lifelong learning. It also reimagines the built environment, centring community and sustainable, inclusive, affordable housing, transport and local business. This is also called for through a Social Guarantee that ensures the collective provision of fair necessities for all: nutritious food, affordable housing, education, access to the internet, health care, social care, a secure environment and an adequate income.

Society’s attitude towards the climate threat demonstrates the need for these structural changes. The message is finally getting through that there is no planet B. There is a growing belief that we must transform our systems of production and consumption if we are to survive. This is the same attitude shift needed when it comes to addressing social injustice. People can and must have their basic needs met.

The collective provision of services is not only more sustainable but also achieves greater equality than market transactions. Publicly available services, accessible and affordable to all, represent a ‘social wage’. Those most dependent on them, such as women and other marginalised groups, gain disproportionately from not having to pay for these services individually. Designing services in response to environmental and social need as opposed to profit generation and extraction means that it is easier to ensure green targets are met.

The Feminist Green New Deal and Social Guarantee help to create a virtuous circle in which social and environmental policies support and strengthen each other. For social and environmental justice, people’s basic needs must be met in a low-carbon, fair and democratic way. Staying within planetary boundaries requires a rapid decarbonisation of the economy. Of course, this means transforming the high polluting, male-dominated industries of transport, energy and construction but it also means investing in the low-carbon, labour intensive, female dominated caring and service industries.

Change is coming. The world a few decades from now will look completely different. We must remember that it’s not just a thriving ecology we need, but also a thriving society, which necessitates putting social, racial and gender-based justice at the heart of environmental planning.

You can find out more about the Feminist Green New Deal work here.

Maeve Cohen is a campaigner, organiser and researcher working to build inclusive economies that serve people and planet.

Anna Johnston is a Research & Policy Officer at Women’s Budget Group.